The Gut Microbiome's Role in Aging Gracefully

“Aging is a fact of life. Looking your age is NOT!”

What truly helps slow down aging? Just as a tree needs a strong root system to flourish, our bodies rely on a well-balanced gut microbiome for optimal health and longevity.

In this blog, we will explore how our gut bacteria impact aging and longevity.

Understanding the Gut Microbiome: The Body’s Ecosystem

Our gut is home to trillions of microorganisms, referred to as the gut microbiome. This  ecosystem, consisting of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more, is crucial for digesting nutrients and fending off germs by regulating our immune system.

Our Gut Changes with Age

As we age, the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome undergo significant changes. Factors such as diet, stress, and medications add to these changes, leading to what is known as dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria composition).


It turns out that our microbiota diversity changes as we age. According to this resource, when we are an infant, our gut microbiome predominantly comprises the following bacterial species: Enterobacteriaceae and Bifidobacteriaceae. However, as we reach adulthood, this composition is mostly replaced with Bacteriodetes and Firmicutes. Finally, when we reach old age, there is a loss across several groups including Bifidobacterium, Bacterodetes, Provetella, and Lactobacillus spp.

Changes in the gut can cause the protective layer of our gut, called the epithelial layer, to weaken. This layer acts as a barrier between the inside of the gut and the rest of the body, keeping out harmful bacteria, toxins, and undigested food.

When the epithelial layer breaks down, it can lead to infections and inflammation because these harmful substances can enter the bloodstream. As we age, the epithelial layer weakens, making the gut more vulnerable to bacterial infections and inflammation. Inflammation, in particular, can trigger a series of biological reactions that promote aging.

The Role of Diet

According to the Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health, dietary choices can influence gut health. A Western diet (WD), rich in fats and sugars, can upset the fine balance of bacteria in the gut and trigger dysbiosis. This study investigated the effects of a high-fat and high-sugar diet on the gut health of mice. They found a lower number of good bacteria known as Bacteroides and a higher number of bad bacteria known as Firmicutes.

Bacteroidetes are the ‘good guys.’ This is because they help break down sugars into something called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs like acetate and butyrate, are a form of fat that provide energy when absorbed by our body. These bacteria also prevent bad bacteria from taking over our gut by occupying space.

Firmicutes, on the other hand, are the ‘bad guys’ as their dominance in the gut can lead to health issues like obesity. This is because they are highly efficient in extracting energy from the food one eats.

Eating a Western diet can also lead to an imbalance in gut bacteria and cause gut inflammation. As the typical Western diet contains processed foods that are quickly absorbed in the gut, little food is left for the good bacteria to eat.  So they start eating away at the protective layer of our gut leading to a leaky gut. A leaky gut exposes our gut to harmful bacteria which can trigger metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes.

Medication Usage

Overuse and multiple dosages of various antibiotic therapies can decrease diverse microbiota such as Bifidobacterium and Faecalibacterium. In fact, an average of 33% of the microbiota ends up disrupted by the misuse of antibiotics.

Also, dysbiosis can occur with repeated use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are a class of medications commonly used to treat inflammation, fever, and pain. Long-term consumption of NSAIDs in the elderly population can lead to a reduction in good bacteria like Actinobacteria and Firmicutes that facilitate nutrient absorption and regulate inflammation.  Having a lower ability to absorb nutrients can lead to nutrient deficiencies which may result in a weakened immune system.

From the above, it becomes clear that gut dysbiosis can impact your health and longevity. Interestingly, centenarians – individuals who live 100 years or older have lower levels of gut dysbiosis, underscoring the importance of circumventing the same to slow down aging.

Beefing up the Gut Microbiome to Combat Aging

There are therapies on the market today that are focused on strengthening the gut for optimal health. One factor associated with aging is the decline of Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria, essential for producing mucin, a protective barrier in the intestines. This barrier defends against harmful microorganisms, and its disruption can lead to inflammation. Pendulum Akkermansia is a nutritional supplement that contains live strains of Akkermansia muciniphila. By taking one capsule daily with food, you can boost levels of the bacteriumto support the production of the mucin layer and strengthen the gut barrier. In addition to the barrier, the supplement also promotes the production of butyrate which helps regulate our blood sugar levels to avoid spikes. Unnecessary spikes in blood sugar levels can be dangerous to your health as outlined in our previous blog on glucose spikes.

Medications like acarbose, initially used to manage blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes, are also being explored for their impact on the gut microbiome. According to this study, acarbose can influence microbiota composition, promoting beneficial bacteria to support gut barrier integrity and regulate inflammation. However, as it is a prescription drug, you should consult your doctor regarding the use of acarbose to determine if it is right for you.

Of course, there are probiotics you can take to replenish the good bacteria. There are SO many products out there on the market. Several that I like the science behind include:

Finally, a clean diet is essential for preventing gut dysbiosis: 

  • Increase dietary fiber: Incorporate a variety of foods high in dietary fiber, such as unprocessed whole grains including oats and barley, as well as a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, and legumes like beans and lentils. According to the Nutrition Source from the Harvard School of Public Health, some of the richest sources of dietary fiber are found in the raw forms of garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed. The dietary fiber present in these foods acts as nourishment for the beneficial bacteria residing in our gut. As these bacteria digest the fiber, they produce SCFAs, which not only supply us with energy but also help regulate our blood sugar levels, as previously discussed.
  • Increase probiotic intake: Probiotics are living microorganisms that are often taken as nutritional supplements to optimize digestive health. You should choose food products with live probiotics. Look for labels indicating “live and active cultures.” Some examples include kefir, yogurt, pickled vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and tempeh.
  • Limit processed and high-saturated fat: Cut back on processed meats, packaged snacks, and fast food. Instead, shift towards unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.

Our gut microbiome may change as we get older but we don’t have to let it be that way. Let’s not age gracefully!

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